Wonder Man (1945)

Director: Bruce Humberstone

Starring: Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo, Vera Ellen, Donald Woods, S.Z. Sakall.

Written by: Don Hartman, Melville Shavelson, Philip Rapp, (adaptation) Jack Jevne, Eddie Moran and (original story) Arthur Sheekman

Running Time: 98 mins

Original UK Cert: Not classified

Original US Release: 8th June 1945

No trailer available

I was having a conversation today with a colleague about Danny Kaye. We discussed his version movies: The Court Jester, White Christmas, The Five Pennies etc and in the midst of this chat, Wonder Man was bought up. Having never seen it, I was completely unfamiliar and on the recommendation, I came home and found a version on a popular video streaming site. I am so glad I was pointed in this film’s direction because it was irrelevant, manic and utterly entertaining.

Buzzy Bellew is a popular showman who is the key witness in a murder trail. Close to marrying musical partner, Midge, Buzzy is, himself, murdered by Ten Grand Jackson’s men and his body is thrown into a river. What everyone doesn’t know is that Buzzy has an identical twin brother, a bookworm, knowledgeable man, Edwin Dingle. Edwin, shy and a complete opposite to Buzzy, is in love with librarian, Ellen. When Edwin, while out getting potato salad, hears music and is drawn to where Buzzy’s body has been dumped, the ghost of his brother appears, pleading for his help to get Jackson in jail and for Edwin to pretend to be his more confident and showy dead brother.

Kaye is one of those performers that you either love or hate. Luckily I like his manic, nervous energy he brings to every role. He is, like Buzzy, a true showman. An accomplished singer, dancer and comic with amazing abilities to use wordplay and language to full comedic potential. Just watch The Court Jester to see that in action.

This is his vehicle. It offers him the opportunity to do what he does best, which is everything as well as play two very different characters as well. The rest of the cast, the equally talented Vera Ellen and Virginia Mayo, are just pawns in Danny’s world and while Vera Ellen gets the chance to show her amazing dancing skills, it’s doesn’t interfere with the fact this is Kaye’s movie through and through.

The whole thing is totally bonkers, from Edwin’s inability to buy potato salad while he is being led this way and that by the spirit of his brother, to the various musical numbers, in which Kaye, as both Edwin and Buzzy, has to perform classical (with a cold) and the finale, a hilarious sequence with Kaye invading an opera to escape Jackson’s henchmen and taking the lead, while trying to communicate with the prosecuting D.A. who is watching the opera in a box.

Absolutely none of it rings true, yet for 98 mins, it is joyous, colourful entertainment. Released almost on the eve of the end of World War II in America, it was just the tonic that cinema goers needed. Bright, breezy escapism with a touch of class and plenty to laugh at. At the same time, it never mentions or hints about the world outside and the horrors that were occurring. It is like stepping away from the bombings and brutality of the war and coming in for a cosy hug from an old friend.

The film walked off with an Academy Award for best visual effects and for a film that was made before the digital age, it is a wonder. Having two Danny Kaye’s on screen at the same time is one thing but having one walking through walls and struggling to pick up drinks is another thing altogether and along with the technicolor, it’s a lovely looking piece too.

Even if you don’t like Kaye, you have to admire the man for all is talents. he is that rare breed now, a film star who could do everything. We live in a cynical world where he would probably be ridiculed and hated by the press for being so good, so in a way, I’m glad he isn’t around now and we can enjoy a man who can make us laugh, smile and feel good and I think his films should be readily available for a new generation to see a genius at work.


No available on DVD in the UK

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